By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday blocked a $1 million economic development grant to Nike to construct a new plant in Arizona, accusing the company of bowing to “the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism.”
In a series of early morning Twitter posts on Tuesday, the governor said he was upset about the decision by the international company to cancel rollout of a new sneaker that features the “Betsy Ross flag.” That banner, which may or may not actually have been designed by Ms. Ross, features 13 white stars in a circle on a field of blue, with the traditional 13 red and white stripes.
Mr. Ducey, in his postings, said Tuesday “was supposed to be a good day in Arizona” with the announcement of a major Nike investment. That followed a vote Monday by the Goodyear city council to waive about $1 million in development fees and provide up to $1 million in incentives for creating about 500 jobs with an average base salary above $48,000.
“And then this news broke yesterday afternoon” the governor wrote, quoting from the Wall Street Journal which had broken the news of the Nike decision.
“I am embarrassed for Nike,” Mr. Ducey said, saying that this country, its system of government and free enterprises have allowed them to prosper and flourish.
“Instead of celebrating American history the week of our nation’s independence, Nike has apparently decided that Betsy Ross is unworthy, and has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism,” he wrote, announcing he ordered the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw all of its incentives.
“Arizona’s economy is doing just fine without Nike,” said Mr. Ducey who in the past five years has held press events to announce new and expanded operations in Arizona with a smaller employment impact. “We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history.”
In a prepared statement, Nike said the company regularly makes business decisions not to offer initiatives, products and services.
“Nike made the decision to halt distribution of the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday,” the company said.
But the Wall Street Journal reported that what apparently caused Nike to decide not to release the $120 shoe as scheduled on July 4 was a complaint Colin Kaepernick made to the company that the flag is associated with slavery and white supremacists. Mr. Kaepernick, a former NFL star who became noted for refusing to stand for the national anthem as a protest against police brutality, has since become an activist on racial issues and has been used by Nike in at least one of its commercials.
Less clear is whether Nike intends to go ahead with the proposed manufacturing plant.
“We already employ 35,000 people in the U.S. and remain committed to creating jobs in the U.S., including a significant investment in an additional manufacturing center which will create 500 new jobs,” the company said. But it did not respond to further inquiries on whether those jobs now will be in Arizona or elsewhere.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, however, wasted no time in seeing the controversy as an opportunity.
“Hey, @Nike, let’s talk,” she said in a Twitter post, linking to Mr. Ducey’s own tweets.
Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord released the following statement:
“The city of Goodyear has found itself in the middle of a difficult situation. Today, much has unfolded. I can appreciate the emotion and discussion that I’ve heard on this important topic.
Last night, the Goodyear City Council unanimously approved a job creation agreement with Nike. This deal is expected to bring more than 500 jobs and a significant investment to the city.
We will honor the commitment we made in our agreement.
It has been a focus of the Goodyear City Council to build a strong economy for years to come and we will continue to work hard to bring the kind of high quality jobs that our residents deserve.”
A Commerce Authority spokeswoman would say only that her agency was “active in the deal” to attract Nike, offering a $1 million “performance-based grant.”
“This offer was accepted, contingent upon final negotiations and a formal agreement,” said Susan Marie. “The offer has now been withdrawn.”
The governor did not respond to repeated requests to explain his decision or answer questions about the underlying concerns about the flag and its symbolism.
CNN reported last year that the Ku Klux Klan distributed materials in update New York urging people to join the organization. Those materials included a drawing of a Klansman on a horse, with the Confederate battle flag on one side and the Betsy Ross flag on the other.
There also was a 2013 report in the Albany (Georgia) Herald which said that a Klan group must use the Confederate battle flag or the Betsy Ross flag to cover the altar at certain meetings.
“The tweet speaks for itself, and the governor stands by it,’’ said press aide Patrick Ptak, who also refused to answer any questions.Reaction to the governor’s decision generally was split along partisan lines, with Republicans who posted their own Twitter message in favor.
“America First!” wrote Rep. Anthony Kern of Glendale. “With AZ’s booming economy I am sure @Nike will be replaced soon by an organization that supports AZ workers and the USA.”
And Rep. Nancy Barto of Phoenix thanked Mr. Ducey, saying “states need to stand up for what’s right — putting our money where are values are — just as we do as individuals.”
Those comments extended beyond state lines, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tweeting he had been a life-long customer since he was a kid but vowing not to buy any more.
“Can anyone recommend a good sneaker co that’s not so woke?” he wrote.
Mr. Ptak did not respond to queries about whether his boss will follow suit.
Democrats lined up on the other side, with Rep. Reginald Bolding of Laveen calling Mr. Ducey’s move “a joke.”
“Glad to see decisions can be made so quickly regarding the Nike announcement but when it comes to real decisions like standing up for children dying at the border or inmates & correctional officers being beat to death b/c locks don’t work you need time for due diligence,” he wrote.
Tom Volgy, a former Democrat Tucson mayor and currently a political science professor at the University of Arizona, told Capitol Media Services that the move by Mr. Ducey is “straight out of the Trump playbook.”
“It sure like it’s a perpetuation of this culture war,” Mr. Volgy said of the governor who has been an ally of the president and his policies.
And Christina Sandefur, executive vice president of the Goldwater Institute which tends to oppose government incentives, had her own take on the issue.
“What’s really patriotic is when government doesn’t pick winner and losers at all, when taxpayers aren’t forced to pay private businesses to make shoes — or anything else,” she wrote.